The tubes have been buzzing over Volkswagen’s recent buy-in with the ultra-mysterious energy storage startup QuantumScape, which industry watchers describe as a direct challenge to Tesla for the EV market. So, what’s all the mystery about? If VW is challenging Tesla on EV battery technology, you can assume that VW has gotten wind of some kind of disruptive technology that will leave Tesla’s favored lithium-ion battery behind in the dust.
Of course we love a good mystery, especially if it involves two EV powerhouses like VW and Tesla, but if you go to the QuantumScape website as of this writing you’ll find nothing more than a couple of touchy-feely (little girl blowing dandelion seeds – aw, c’mon) pictures and a contact form. So we did a little snooping on our own…
VW Challenges Tesla With Stake In QuantumScape
The most recent thing that set the tubes afire was a December 5 article in Bloomberg, which claimed that the goal was to develop an EV battery that could “more than triple the range” of VW’s current crop of electric vehicles.
According to Bloomberg and its anonymous sources, QuantumScape’s energy storage technology is fireproof, which gives it a huge advantage in terms of marketing to the safety-conscious EV buyer.
Depending on how the new technology shakes out in 2015, the new EV battery would be considered for Audi and Porsche in addition to Volkswagen-branded EVs.
The Mystery Behind The New EV Battery
If you noodle around the Bloomberg website, you’ll find that the available profile on QuantumScape is about as thin as the company’s website. Here’s the whole description:
QuantumScape Corporation manufactures lithium batteries. The Company focuses on fundamental disruption in the energy storage sector. QuantumScape conducts its business in the United States.
Okay, so lithium batteries. That doesn’t sound too far off from Tesla’s lithium-ion model, but that thing about “fundamental disruption” stuck with us, so we hit the tubes and found the energy storage social media site TheEEStory.
All the way back in April, someone posting under the name “B” let slip that QuantumScape’s new EV battery technology is based on research undertaken at Stanford by Friedrich Prinz.
We’ll get to that in a minute but first let’s note that according to B, QuantumScape’s CEO is Jagdeep Singh, who has a solid track record in cutting edge tech.
Back to that thing about Stanford, if you follow B’s links you’ll find an in-depth profile of Singh, and if you read all the way down to the very last line you’ll find that this “Silicon Valley rock star” graduated from Stanford.
Stanford, Perovskite And The New EV Battery
So okay, so there’s a Stanford connection. Now what about this perovskite thing? If you check out Frederich Prinz’s Stanford profile you’ll see he’s got the clean tech chops to pull off something new, and he’s been noodling around with perovskite for solid oxide fuel cells.
In case you’re wondering why we’re so interested in perovskite, next to graphene this naturally occurring mineral is one of our most favorite new clean tech materials in the world. Among other applications, perovskite could provide a “turbo-boost” for solar cells.
Prinz is also the force behind something called the “all-electron battery effect” which is described thusly:
Improved energy storage is provided by exploiting two physical effects in combination. The first effect can be referred to as the All-Electron Battery (AEB) effect, and relates to the use of inclusions embedded in a dielectric structure between two electrodes of a capacitor. Electrons can tunnel through the dielectric between the electrodes and the inclusions, thereby increasing the charge storage density relative to a conventional capacitor.
Before you diss the concept of an all-electron battery, note that the phrase describes an effect, not the actual mechanism at play.
So, digging a little further we went back to those helpful folks over at TheEEStory, where back in July “B” posted information on a couple of QuantumScape patents that seem to related to new EV battery technology.
And, bingo, sort of. One of the patents is for this:“METHOD FOR FORMING AND PROCESSING ANTIPEROVSKITE MATERIAL DOPED WITH ALUMINUM MATERIAL.”
Well, whaddaya know. Antiperovskite refers to materials that share a crystal structure similar to naturally occurring perovskite. Synthetic antiperovskites “demonstrate interesting and useful physical properties” according to our friends over at Wikipedia.
Here’s some snippets from the patent (emphasis added):
In various embodiments, a thin film of antiperovskite is deposited on a substrate, which can be an electrode of a lithium-based electrochemical storage device. The antiperovskite material is doped with aluminum material. There are other embodiments as well.
Embodiments of the present invention provides thin film and solid state electrolytes for lithium ion batteries. The formation and use thereof of antiperovskite material enables a metallic lithium anode, which increases the capacity and therefore the energy density of any lithium-based electrochemical storage device.
Yep, they are talking about a battery using a solid-state electrolyte rather than a conventional liquid electrolyte.
Sure enough, if you check back to Wikipedia you’ll find this application for synthetic antiperovskites:
Recently synthesized antiperovskites with chemical formula Li3OBr or Li3OCl have demonstrated superionic conductivity for Lithium ion. These LiRAPs are being investigated for use in solid state batteries and fuels…
Going by the information in the patent, QuantumScape seems on its way to solving at least one obstacle that has kept conventional solid state batteries down at the micro scale. To use the technology in something bigger — say, a new EV battery — you’d have to make a huge improvement in the room-temperature conductivity of the electrolyte, for starters.
By the way, VW dropped some hints about its interest in solid state EV batteries back in November.
Okay, so what’s the next step? Well, we’re going to use that contact form on QuantumScape’s website to see if any of this speculation is anywhere near the mark, so stay tuned.